In my English class I was assigned to write a short essay, the instructions for which are as follows:
"In a well-developed, well-organized essay, argue whether or not you think the statue in Overland Park Arboretum should be removed. Include a context for your argument by defining obscenity and decency, art and pornography...Also consider the effects of the indictment of the arboretum by the women who demands its removal."
The controversy to which the article refers is one about a woman who saw a statue of a half-naked, fragmented woman photographing herself. She thought the statue was obscene and not only wanted it removed, but wanted to bring charges against the arboretum for hosting it.
Here are the guidelines: "All successful essays will: - summarize the controversy -claim a clear, arguable thesis statement prove the thesis in well-developed and organized body paragraphs with topic sentences, evidence, and analysis
Please let me know if you think the following essay accomplishes these goals.
Just because the product of a creative mind raises uncomfortable questions does not mean that it should be hidden from public view. One person’s -- or small group of people’s – sensitivity to a particular issue should not impose censure on the expression of the ideas of a person addressing the issue, nor should the public be deprived of the insight that exposure to this idea may provide. If a person is offended by a work of art, this is their problem, and theirs alone. There is no reason everyone else should suffer because of another’s limited comprehension.
A resident of Johnson County, Kansas and mother of two, Joanne Hughes, took drastic measure upon encountering what she considered a lewd and misplaced bronze sculpture in an arboretum in her community (1). This statue depicted a headless women, scantily clad, her limbs partially severed, photographing herself (4). Hughes thought this image too obscene for her young daughters’ eyes, and was worried that it could invoke what she would consider immoral or corrupt thoughts in the mind of any child who sees it. Her simplistic misinterpretation of the statue, that it “seemed to glorify sexting” (2), was the spark that ignited her crusade against what she believes to be vulgar, provocative, and offensive art.
An interesting comment is made by Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe, in which he states that “proving something is “obscene” from a legal standpoint is very difficult.” There is a reason for this. The distinction between what is obscene and what is not is, at best, vague. It is a purely subjective judgment. What one person finds offensive another may find enlightening. Should the latter person be deprived of enlightenment because another person, too weak-minded and clouded by their own hazy sense of morality to understand the message being conveyed, deems it inappropriate for public consumption?
No background on Hughes is given, but it is safe to assume she comes from a conservative, and perhaps religious, background. She believes what she believes because that is what, for her entire life, she was told to believe. The indoctrinated values she holds form the motive for her derailment of the statue in question. I must doubt her ability to think for herself, based on her shallow and inflammatory response to a sharp and insightful work of art. The social implications of the sculpture flew right over her head, and all she saw was obscenity. But, being the sheepish and emotionally driven person that she is, she was not willing to stop at mere disagreement. She demanded that the statue be removed and, further, that the arboretum be prosecuted for daring to expose its visitors to such corruptive vulgarity.
This is ludicrous. She proposes that time, money, and effort be needlessly spent on removing the statue and pressing charges against the proprietors of a benign service to the community. All of this drastic action simply because, in her state of emotional confusion, she was offended by something she failed to understand. The whole controversy is about her, yet she claims it is about the children; that they should not be exposed to prickly concepts at such a young and impressionable age. For the moment I will give Hughes the benefit of the doubt, and consider her argument.
It is only a matter of time before children of any social strata encounter the unpleasant and downright nasty aspects of civilization. The longer a child is sheltered, and fed idealized and fictitiously moral concepts of what constitute human life and society, the more of a shock it will be when these artificial ideals are shattered in the face of reality. Why not expose children to these concepts early on? Not only will they be long prepared when these issues arise, but they will develop critical thinking skills when their brains are still highly plastic and absorptive, and may even devise strategies for how to deal with these issues when they do arise. These children will be far better off than those who, when confronted with problems of which they are entirely unfamiliar, run for cover at first sight of them, desperately seeking the artificial values imposed upon them by their deluded parents. This will only carry through successive generations, creating hordes of close-minded idealists unable to think for themselves. What good are these attributes to those who hold them, or to the society in which they reside? None at all.
If this argument is accepted, the censorship of personal expression is a far greater detriment to society than any idea ever could be. Ideas are ideas; it is how these ideas are interpreted that makes them decent or obscene. In Eric Schlosser’s essay “Empire of the Obscene”, it is noted that in the 1950’s, even the most back-handed suggestion of sexuality was denounced as obscene. The government imposed upon the populace its own half-realized conceptions of morality, and went to great measures to hide from the public those materials which it considered unfit for public consumption. Upon what were these moral standards based? They were based upon the moral values of dogmatic religious organizations, whose own standards were derived from the words of a book they blindly followed. This is evidence of the flimsy foundations upon which a culturally, democratically, and financially costly campaign against obscenity can be founded.
The explosive reaction of Joanne Hughes mirrors such irresponsible and juvenile behavior. If we are to allow the lazy interpretation of a piece of art to determine which ideas the public can and cannot embrace, then the freedom of the citizens of the society in which this censorship is occurring is seriously impeded.
This is but a single occurrence, seemingly insignificant, in a relatively unknown area of the United States. But all magnanimous events start small. Without realizing it, Hughes is promoting ideas that fly in the face of the primary tenet upon which this country is based: freedom of expression.
And nothing could be more obscene.